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Does the influenza vaccine work?

Influenza is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. The influenza vaccine has been shown to be effective in preventing illness in about 50-60% of healthy adults under the age of 65 years. This can vary by year, the person’s age and underlying medical conditions. It takes about 2 weeks for the vaccine to become effective and protect the individual against influenza. By vaccinating yourself against influenza you are not only protecting yourself, but everyone around you.

Why is it necessary to receive another dose of the influenza vaccine each year?

Each year the strains of the influenza virus which are predicted to affect Australians are reviewed and the available vaccines may be changed according to the strains. The protection provided by influenza vaccines decreases after a few months so children and adults need to be re-vaccinated each year before winter.

There was low flu activity in 2021, why is it still important to receive a vaccine in 2022?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been lower influenza activity and lower uptake of the influenza vaccine compared with previous years. The COVID-19 public health measures have contributed to this, however it is unlikely that the same restrictions will be in place again this winter.

With borders reopening, a comeback of influenza is likely in 2022.

​Can influenza vaccines cause the influenza?

There is no live virus in the influenza shot, so you cannot get influenza from the vaccine. The myth that the vaccine causes influenza probably results from a misinterpretation of mild vaccine side effects, which are a sign that the body is responding to the vaccine and producing protection against the actual disease for when you may come into contact with it.

Is the influenza vaccine safe?

As with any medications, vaccines can have side effects. The most common side effects following influenza vaccination include mild fever, headache, muscle and joint pain and injection site reactions. These can occur in the first three days after vaccination and can generally be managed safely at home. Talk with your immunisation provider about what to expect.

Serious side effects are rare. In Australia, we have AusVaxSafety, which monitors the safety of vaccines including seasonal influenza vaccines. This system uses a short SMS survey to ask patients, or parents of children, in a large number of general practices around Australia, if they experienced any health issues in the first few days after vaccination. In 2020, 94.5% of people that participated in the survey reported no adverse events following immunisation. Of the 5.5% of people that reported an adverse event the majority were generally mild and short lived. You can visit AusVaxSafety for further information.

Will the influenza vaccine provide protection against COVID-19?

The influenza vaccine will not protect you against COVID-19. However, it will protect you against influenza and help reduce the severity and spread of influenza this winter. For information about COVID-19, please visit COVID-19 (Coronavirus). For information about COVID-19 vaccination, please visit COVID-19 vaccination in NSW.

Is there a waiting period between a COVID-19 vaccine and an influenza vaccine?

All COVID-19 vaccines can be administered on the same day as an influenza vaccine. Ask your vaccination provider about this is if you are also due for your COVID-19 booster.

Who is eligible for the free vaccine?

All persons should receive the annual influenza vaccine. However, only the following groups at higher risk of complications from influenza are eligible for free influenza vaccine:

  • ​all children aged 6 months to less than 5 years of age
  • all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 5 years and over
  • all individuals aged 5 years and over with medical risk conditions, namely:
    • cardiac disease, including cyanotic congenital heart disease, coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure
    • chronic respiratory conditions, including suppurative lung disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and severe asthma
    • obesity where the BMI is ≥30kg/m2
    • other chronic illnesses requiring regular medical follow up or hospitalisation in the previous year, including diabetes mellitus, chronic metabolic diseases, chronic renal failure, and haemoglobinopathies
    • chronic neurological conditions that impact on respiratory function, including multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, and seizure disorders
    • impaired immunity, including HIV, malignancy and chronic steroid use
    • children aged 6 months to 10 years on long term aspirin therapy
  • pregnant women (influenza vaccine can be given at any stage of pregnancy)
  • people aged 65 years and over (a vaccine that is specifically designed to produce a higher immune response is available for this group).

Your local immunisation provider will assess your eligibility for the free influenza vaccine. If you are not eligible for free influenza vaccine you can also access the influenza vaccine through private script from your GP or from a pharmacy for people 10 years and over.

Where and when will the free vaccine be available?

The free influenza vaccine is generally available from mid-April each year from your local GP or Aboriginal Medical Service. Children under 5 years can also access the free influenza vaccine through community health centres and local councils that immunise children.

Some pharmacies will have stock of the free influenza vaccine for people aged 65 years and over. Whilst this vaccine is free, the pharmacist may charge an administration fee. This fee should be discussed with the pharmacist immuniser before vaccination.

Should the enhanced vaccine (Fluad® Quad) be given to people who have a medical risk factor if they are not 65 years or over?

No. The enhanced Fluad® Quad vaccine (available for free on the National Immunisation Program) is only registered for use in people aged 65 years and over. Anyone aged less than 65 years of age should be offered an age appropriate influenza vaccine.

Can patients aged 65 years and over be given standard quadrivalent vaccines if the enhanced quadrivalent vaccine (Fluad® Quad) is not available?

Yes. However, people aged 65 and over should receive the enhanced quadrivalent vaccine (Fluad® Quad) over other standard quadrivalent vaccines. The enhanced vaccine has been specially formulated to create a greater immune response amongst the elderly, who are known to have a weaker response to immunisation. However, if Fluad® Quad is not available people aged 65 years and over can safely receive other standard quadrivalent influenza vaccines.

Can someone who has received the influenza vaccine early in the season receive an additional (booster) dose later in the year?

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation advises that revaccination in the same year is not routinely recommended, however some people may benefit due to personal circumstances such as pregnancy or travel. Pregnant women who received an influenza vaccine in 2021 should receive a 2022 influenza vaccine if it becomes available before the end of pregnancy. Women who receive influenza vaccine before becoming pregnant should be revaccinated during pregnancy to protect the unborn infant.

Can someone who is 65 or over who received the flu vaccine for people under 65 years of age receive a subsequent dose of one of the vaccines for people 65 years of age and over?

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation advises that revaccination in the same year is not routinely recommended, however some people may benefit due to personal circumstances such as travel.

How do I know which of the available influenza vaccines can be given to different people?

There are a number of resources and an information sheet providing advice in relation to which influenza vaccine should be administered to various age groups. Immunisation providers must check that the influenza vaccine that they are administering is the correct influenza vaccine for the person’s age.

How many vaccine doses are recommended for children?

Children aged less than 9 years of age who are receiving the influenza vaccine for the first time should receive 2 doses of the vaccine, 4 weeks apart. In subsequent years only one dose is required. Children who only received one dose in their first year of vaccination still only require one dose in subsequent years.

Should children only receive a half dose of the influenza vaccine?

No. The dose of influenza vaccines for all ages is 0.5mL. The 0.25mL dose that was previously recommended for young children is no longer available/recommended. It is safe for children to receive the full dose (0.5ml) of an age appropriate influenza vaccine.

Can children receive the influenza vaccine for free?

All children aged 6 months to less than 5 years of age are eligible for free influenza vaccine as part of the National Immunisation Program, previously funded by NSW Health. If two doses are indicated (for children who have never received influenza vaccine before) both doses are free if they are under 5 years of age.

Influenza vaccine is also available free for children aged 5 years and over with specified medical conditions and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Can the influenza vaccine be given to children aged from 6 months to less than 5 years of age at the same time as other immunisation program vaccines?

Yes. All influenza vaccines can be administered at the same time as other childhood recommended vaccines.

There is a small increased risk of fever following administration of pneumococcal and influenza vaccines at the same time. Separating the doses by 3 days can be considered to reduce this risk.

I had the influenza vaccine while I was pregnant, does my baby still need the vaccine?

All pregnant women are recommended to have the influenza vaccine during their pregnancy. Some of the antibodies that your body makes in response to the vaccine pass to your baby during your pregnancy, and this helps protect your baby from influenza in the crucial first few months of life before they can receive the vaccine themselves.

Unfortunately, this protection does not last beyond six months of age. This is why the influenza vaccine is recommended and now funded for all children from six months of age.

What if I am breastfeeding, does that mean my baby doesn’t need the vaccine from six months?

Breastfeeding doesn’t provide enough antibodies to your baby’s system to protect them against influenza after 6 months of age, so it’s important to protect them with a free influenza vaccine from 6 months of age.

Can people with an egg allergy receive the influenza vaccine?

Yes, persons with egg allergy, including anaphylaxis, can be safely vaccinated with influenza vaccines. Persons with a history of egg allergy (non-anaphylaxis) can receive an age-appropriate full dose of vaccine in any immunisation setting. Persons with a history of anaphylaxis to egg should be vaccinated in medical facilities with staff experienced in recognising and treating anaphylaxis.

Is a ‘milky-white’ appearance of the Fluad® Quad vaccine typical?

According to the product information for Fluad® Quad it should be gently shaken before use. After shaking, the normal appearance of Fluad® Quad is a milky-white suspension.

Can the influenza vaccine be administered to people with a latex allergy?

Yes. In 2022, all influenza vaccines available on the National Immunisation Program and NSW Health programs are latex free.

Where can I get more information about the influenza vaccine?

The National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) has developed an Influenza vaccines for Australians factsheet, an Influenza vaccines for Australians - FAQs and an Influenza vaccination during COVID-19 FAQs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Further resources can be found at NCIRS: Influenza.

Current as at: Tuesday 5 July 2022
Contact page owner: Immunisation